What Jesus wouldn't do

lutherReader James S. pointed out something from one of the articles Terry linked to in his last Da Vinci post. It comes from Owen Glieberman's piece in Entertainment Weekly:

Yes, a soupcon of research reveals that the Priory of Sion is a hoax invented in 1956, and surely it can't be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate (though Martin Luther believed so).

Martin Luther believed what? That Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate? What hogwash. Unfortunately, the lie is getting some traction. CNN republished it. Time made the claim in 2003. I even spoke with a copyeditor last week who removed it from an article during the fact-checking process.

Since I'm Lutheran, I'm quite familiar with many of the wonderful things Luther said and wrote. I'm also familiar with many of the stupid things he said. But it takes willful misunderstanding of Luther to say that he believed Jesus was intimate with Mary Magdalene.

Only by putting Luther in the worst possible light can you make this claim. Luther thought about a lot. And most of it was written down. The most complete collection of Luther's writings is the Weimar Ausgabe, consisting of 101 large folio volumes. While only a fraction of these writings have been translated into English, the majority of these translations appear in the 54-volume American edition of Luther's Works. Luther wrote about everything from vocation to Scriptural canonicity; from the Doctrine of Justification to civil administration.

Pelikan 01So from these 101 volumes of Luther's voluminous writings we have Luther's consistent preaching of Jesus as sinless. And then on page 154 of the last volume of the American edition -- edited by none other than the recently deceased Jaroslav Pelikan (pictured) -- we have a statement attributed to Luther by John Schlaginhaufen. It's from a section of the Works called Table Talk and collects freewheeling conversations Luther enjoyed with friends.

"Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, 'Nobody knows what he's doing with her' [John 4:27]. Again, [he was an adulterer] with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 [:2-11], whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died."

The editor points out that the quote lacks context. Other Luther scholars have pointed out that the quote, read without interpretation, would not fit with anything else Luther said about Jesus. But that doesn't stop Time, Entertainment Weekly, CNN and other media outlets from repeating this ridiculous statement that, if taken seriously, would contradict thousands of sermons, hundreds of speeches and hundreds of pages of collected writings. Readers who are interested in explanations that match with Luther's thousands of other teachings about Jesus may be interested in what this Lutheran pastor has to say:

So what in the world was he talking about at dinner that day in 1532? The Biblical context, Christian theology, and a knowledge of Luther's way of thinking lead us to one or two possible conclusions . . .

Luther may have been examining Jesus from the perspective of His First Century witnesses, who were shocked that He ate and drank with "sinners" and that He'd sit and talk one-on-one and in public with a woman . . .

The other logical conclusion the total evidence allows is that Luther was speaking theologically. Talking with, granting forgiveness to, and allowing anointing by these women was emblematic of Jesus' entire earthly ministry. He was no passive bystander of the human condition, but He lived among us. While sinless, He took our sins upon Himself that He might fully forgive us. Paul summarized this work in 2 Corinthians 5:21, saying, "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)"

Speaking of the great Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, his death last week was not marked nearly enough in newspapers. The Washington Post's obituary about the man, who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1998, also had a surprising error:

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan Jr., the son of a Lutheran minister who had emigrated from what is now Czechoslovakia, was born in Akron, Ohio, on Dec. 17, 1923.

Czechoslovakia -- forced together in 1918 -- split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

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